Kate Harris
Credit: Kate Harris
Pedalling the Silk Road in Tibet
When she was a child growing up in southern Ontario, Kate Harris felt as if she’d missed out on the golden age of adventure on Earth. So she dreamed of being an astronaut and pictured Mars as “the next great terra incognita.” Then, while on scholarship at the University of North Carolina, she did a 28-day Outward Bound hiking and rafting course in Utah. “I discovered that you don’t need to go to another planet to feel the feeling of exploration,” says Harris, 29, who now lives in Vancouver. “You just need wild places.”

Harris has since gone exploring on all seven continents, including a summer-long bike tour across the United States and a research stint in Antarctica. As a Rhodes Scholar at England’s Oxford University, she trekked in India’s beautiful yet politically unstable Kashmir Mountains to study the effects of geopolitical borders on wilderness conservation. She then retraced part of Marco Polo’s Silk Road route on a four-month, 4,000-kilometre bike tour in the mountains and deserts of western China in 2006.

In 2011, Harris and trip partner Melissa Yule secured a prestigious Polartec Challenge grant to pedal the entire Silk Road, which stretches 10,000 kilometres from Turkey to northern India. The expedition gave Harris more time to exercise her “grudge” against borders, which she’s come to loathe for the way they divide people, wild places, animals and ecosystems.

During that trip, while enduring rugged roads, steep climbs and thin air, Harris cycled the tense yet biologically diverse Afghan-Tajikistan border, and also had to make a covert 1,000-kilometre transit of Tibet, where Chinese authorities insist that foreigners travel with a guide. But for Harris, it all made for an excellent adventure. “I love the challenge of setting out to do something you’re not certain you can achieve,” she says. “Adventure begins when uncertainty begins.”

This profile is part of our top adventurers feature, The Elite, from our Spring 2012 issue.